Performer's remarks about Boris Tchaikovsky's piano music

If I were to formulate what is the most important to me in Boris Tchaikovsky's music, I would say: sincere, straightforward, and simplicity in expressing ideas, feelings, and states of mind that are far from being simple, unambiguous, or superficial. A remarkable feature of his works is saying just what is desired to be said, without any care about conventionalities of the art of music. Evidently, it took the composer some time to arrive at such freedom of self-expression. It is very clearly seen when comparing the First and the Second piano sonatas. Sonata No. 1, for all its brightness and musical charm, pays a noticeable tribute to the instrumental music traditions, which can be seen especially in the nature of its themes. Each theme in Sonata No. 2 is nearly audible human speech, while in Sonata No. 1, themes of a more constructional/instrumental nature prevail. Over the eight years between the First and the Second Sonata, the composer had developed his unique voice, simple and altogether extremely poetical. When I was working at the Second Sonata, I was surprised to notice associations with intonations of Modest Mussorgsky, so ultimately truthful and originating from human speech. I was under the deep impression afterwards as I heard the following story. Once B. Tchaikovsky was asked about his favorite composer. Having a chance to avoid the question, he nevertheless answered: "If I had to choose, I would choose Mussorgsky".

Outwardly, the First and the Second Sonata have much in common. Each has three movements, where the first and the last ones are in a rapid tempo, and the middle ones are slow. However, already the 1st movement of the Second with its unexpected culmination adagio indicates a much greater depth of the drama developing in it. The ratio of the slow movements and finales of these opuses is interesting. The slow movement of the First - variations on an unchanged theme - is like some cold crystal showing us its varying facets. The abstracted nature of music in this movement predetermines the need for a vigorous dramatic finale. In the Second Sonata, the slow movement, for all its outward calmness, appears to me the emotional center of the entire opus. Its noble humility is a result of enormous mental strain. (I see a similar phenomenon in Schubert's music.) It is a striking example of how truly great emotion can generate extremely simple and beautiful music. The latent emotional charge of this movement gives rise to a finale that is so light as if wishing to dissolve in the fuss of the day.

As far as I can judge, radio and movie music was of no small importance for the creative evolution of Boris Tchaikovsky. In a sense, the Eight Pieces For Children are akin to this music of his. The author does not care at all about any formal eccentricity or subtlety of these miniature pieces (which does not affect the workmanship and inventiveness level). The composer's primary intention was to embody a very specific musical image using simplest tools. Children performing these pieces may face, apart from technical difficulties, a sizeable artistic challenge. These musical pictures, like most Boris Tchaikovsky's works, will not "open" if you do not grasp the built-in emotional tints that are subtle, individual, and sometimes a bit ironic.

Something of the kind may be said about the Sonatina. This opus (written at about the same time as the First Sonata) proves that high poetry may live in works that are not serious or dramatic.

Natural Modes and Pentatonica were written forty years after the Eight Pieces For Children appeared. These cycles of tiny musical sketches created the same year as Boris Tchaikovsky's very last composition, Symphony with Harp, crown the composer's creative career. They indicate the complete artistic freedom he had achieved, in several sketches enabling him to embody any images, often just barely marked, making them perfectly finished with a couple of strokes.

2004, Olga Solovieva

[ written for the Albany Records CD]